Category: Reposts


(Re)Covered In Folk: Dave Carter, 1952 – 2002
The Legacy of a Buddhist Cowboy Poet

July 19th, 2016 — 11:59pm

Repost originally featured July 19, 2010. Dave, we miss you still.




Each year as schooldays fade into memory and the summer festival season grows close, my thoughts turn to Dave Carter. An up-and-coming singer-songwriter already well respected by critics and peers, Carter was on the road with his partner Tracy Grammer in the summer of 2002 when he was stricken down with a heart attack during an early morning run in the New England heat.

Their scheduled set at that day’s Green River Festival was taken over by Signature Sounds labelmate Mark Erelli with little fanfare. And the following weekend, at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Tracy took to the stage with determination, cementing Carter’s legacy with a mainstage tribute set performed with friends and folkfamily that, surely, would have made Dave smile.

I’d like to say that I was there, as so many friends were. But this series of events comes to me secondhand, eclipsed by the miracle of parenthood, and the uncertain, overwhelming future of its sudden and everpermanent arrival. For on the day of Dave Carter’s death, in a hospital just a few blocks from where he had planned to perform on that fateful day, my wife and I were walking into the same hot summer, our newly-born child cradled carefully in our arms.

It was the one and only year we’ve missed Falcon Ridge in fifteen years of continuous attendance – the field being no place for a week-old infant – but though I have no regrets in choosing personal joy over shared wake under the circumstances, I have long wished I could have been there for the celebration of Carter’s life which took place that summer on the ridge. Instead, I am left with faint memory and eternal song, his recorded catalog of Zen mysticism and gentle cowboy poetics a permanent fixture on my playlists, his warm voice and sublime vision a constant echo of what was and could have been.

Far be it from me to claim some special bond between Carter and myself, despite the proximity of life and death which we shared; I was only privileged enough to see Dave and Tracy once in concert, and now it is too late.

But Dave Carter lives in my heart, and in the hearts of those folk musicians I love. And why not? It’s not just that Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer spent the last two years of his life atop the american folk charts, thanks to top honors at Kerrville, Napa Valley, and other festivals following their kitchen-recorded, independently released debut When I Go (1998), and the subsequent success of Tanglewood Tree (2000) and Drum Hat Buddha (2001); it’s that they earned that recognition, through unparalleled songcraft, dedicated performance, and a grateful approach to the universe that lives on in his songs, and in her life.

Perhaps Joan Baez said it best, describing Carter’s songs as folkways-ready: “There is a special gift for writing songs that are available to other people, and Dave’s songs are very available to me. It’s a kind of genius, you know, and Dylan has the biggest case of it. But I hear it in Dave’s songs, too.” Listen, and you’ll hear it too.



Tracy Grammer continues to perform the Dave Carter songbook, most often with local hero and master instrumentalist Jim Henry by her side. In 2005, she released Flower of Avalon, which included nine previously unrecorded songs written by Carter, and a single traditional tune that fits perfectly within the set.

Since then, Tracy has continued to perform and record, making a name for herself beyond that of Dave Carter’s partner and muse. But in many ways, her life continues to be as much a part of his legacy as his songs. Pick up her work, and theirs, at tracygrammer.com.

Comment » | (Re)Covered, Dave Carter, Reposts

America The Beautiful:
More Coverfolk For A Thoughtful Fourth

July 4th, 2016 — 12:48pm





I had big plans to share some thoughts about my conflicted love for America in 2011 on the anniversary of our birth as a nation. But looking in the archives, I saw that I had written it before: both the previous year, when we mused upon the complexity of patriotism in a modern age, and in our first year, at a time when our national discourse was increasingly polarized by the impending presidential election.

And so I added a few songs to our original America The Beautiful feature, and let it fly like a star spangled balloon. And now, five years later, we’re back again, with a few new additions to the canon.

Our Single Song Sunday from 2010 remains archived, and we encourage you to head back in time for 10 covers of Paul Simon’s American Tune, and some thoughts on the complicated times which continue to characterize our national zeitgeist. But since it’s been a while, here’s our 2008 post revisited a second time. Its sentiment stands: may your Independence Day be thoughtful, too.


I’m not exactly the patriotic type. I’ve been to more countries than states; I prefer solitude to mall culture. Heck, we don’t even have basic cable. But all power-hungry, commercial/corporate complex, bittersweet modernity aside, I believe in the ideals which frame the constant American dialogue with itself — including first and foremost the requirement that we keep talking, lest we abdicate our role as government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

And I believe that, by definition, as music which speaks of and for a people, American folk music holds a particular place in that conversation which is America. Folk focuses that conversation, making it real and vivid, whether it is through the lens of policy critique or protest cry, the immigrant experience or the internal monologue of a singer-songwriter struggling to be free.

Checks and balances and a mechanism for self-correction; fireworks and barbecue, and the right to make dumb mistakes and have to live with ‘em. Losing love, and falling in it again. Finding hope, and being scared to dream one more time. It’s the American way, all of it — and it’s been that way since inception.

Which is to say: if I may sometimes work to change the policies of those in power, through sharing song or through town meeting politics, it is because I love this country. And I hope I never lose that fluttery feeling in my stomach when we come in for a landing at the international terminal, and I know that I am home.

So let other bloggers share patriotic song today. I’d rather take the country as it is: dialogic, complex, open about its faults and favors, and always looking for a better way. And if saying so means posting songs we have posted here before, then so be it — for these are, after all, timeless songs, with messages that bear repeating.

Happy Birthday, America. Long may your contradictions endear us to you. May you never lose hope. And may we never stop singing.



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Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Reposts

Carolina Coverfolk, Redux:
James Taylor, Doc Watson, Elizabeth Cotten, The Avett Brothers & more!

April 19th, 2015 — 9:56am


beachincorolla


Forever this will be the year we cut it almost too fine, working ourselves too close to exhaustion trying to juggle illness, worklife, the desperate hobbies of the well-intentioned. The week came and went in a blur, and suddenly there we were, just across the Chesapeake Bridge Tunnel, taking turns at the wheel despite shared exhaustion, both of us struggling to stay awake as the rain came and went in the dead miles of Virginia, past fields and factories we’ve passed a dozen times, but never seen in daylight.

We made it, of course: to the beach for sunrise, breakfast in the tiny village of Corolla, through the long tired hours before the rental property delivers the keys. Now we are in the house on the lagoon, the same one we have rented for almost a decade. The osprey wheels just yards from this porch, his spiral hypnotic and soothing; the turtles snooze in the sun; across the lagoon, something – a beaver? a fish? – splashes by the bank. The day slows. The soul lags, even as we ply the day with moments, ice cream, beach walks, the children struggle with the buzz that makes boredom of stillness. But the bright horizon brims with the peace we need, and the shared communion we crave.

Soon the others will come: my father, and his companion; my brother; two families of friends next door. Until then, the stress of the world lifts slowly, like the fog burning off the beach at dawn. Here’s a soundtrack to ease us into it: over a hundred songs in all, contained within our six previous collections of songbook coverage by, from and about The Carolinas and their rich history of artists and musicians.

Carolina Coverfolk, Volumes 1-6



Bonus track: North Carolina native Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield take on Miss Misery live on World Cafe in celebration of their new (and quite excellent) Elliott Smith tribute album.



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1 comment » | Reposts, Vacation Coverfolk

Single Song Sunday: Wayfaring Stranger
(white spirituals and the religious origins of modern folk music)

January 19th, 2014 — 7:24pm





A morning retreat with the worship associate team at our UU church yesterday, a religious education teach-in on songs as tools of social justice, and a scheduled jaunt to check out a church for sale tomorrow to see if it can be transformed into a new home have cast a non-secular sentiment over my long weekend, putting me on the lookout for the spiritual in everything. In response, we’ve gone back five years to resurrect an early Single Song Sunday feature on oft-covered traditional “white spiritual” Wayfaring Stranger, and added a whole second set of versions found and recorded since then from Gregory Paul, Simone Dinnerstein and Tift Merritt, folk supergroups Red Horse and Red Molly, and more.

Enjoy all twenty tracks, and if you, too, need a little more spirituality in your life, check out related features on Songs From The Universalist Unitarian Hymnal and Songs of Social Justice for further musings and song.


Through much of recorded history, religion has served communities as both as a community locus and as a carrier of song; as such, it is perhaps unsurprising to find a relationship of sorts between folk music and the church itself. As with any folk form, of course, context matters; to note that several songs commonly associated with Cat Stevens can be found in the Universalist Unitarian hymnal says something very different about both artist and religious community than pointing out that a move to the heavily Jewish neighborhoods of New York’s Coney Island in the 1940s led to the recent release of a wonderful album of Woody Guthrie-penned Klezmer music.

To note that the folk song Wayfaring Stranger (or sometimes Poor Wayfaring Stranger) was first published in 1816 in the shape note tunebook Kentucky Harmony, which in turn was primarily an expansion of the work of John Wyeth and his two Repositories of Sacred Music, then, is to locate that song in the white spiritual canon — which, in turn, calls us to the American white revivalist movements of the last few centuries, to consider the common threads of a form of folk product which includes The Sacred Shakers, the work of Doc Watson, and many other works and performers with roots in New England, Appalachia, and other American church-based communities.

Though it echoes similar terminology — bluegrass gospel, most obviously — the term “white spiritual” is striking and vivid; to be honest, I’m surprised to find that Google lists only a few uses of the term, most of which seem to be part of classical choral scholarship. The conceit that white audiences had their own spriritual song, which derived its rhythm and subject from their European ancestry, illuminates folk’s origins in a way that is both new and suddenly fitting, creating a parallel path to modernity in stark contrast to the gospel folk which comes to us through african american blues music. Further, such a conceit says much about the context in which music evolved, and traveled, and spoke to and for the “folk”; exploring the term is a fine way to help reshuffle and rethink the origin of many songs which remain at the core of folk music today.

The semiotic implications of the term “white spiritual” do seem apt, when you think about it; so much of the folk which has its roots in the appalachian mountains and stark New England Shakers, after all, is about redemption, framing man’s connection to man in the context of God. And Wayfaring Stranger is an especially interesting example of the white spiritual. Though other white spirituals may be more central to the form — for example, our first Single Song Sunday subject, Amazing GraceWayfaring Stranger is notable for being a song which does not as obviously call to its spiritual nature. Which is to say: though both songs ultimately play out the relationship between the internal sinner-self and the spiritual Father, the former is a hymn of the post-redemptive self, less about the more modern folk-as-call-to-complexity and more about morality-play.

But the humble determination of the pre-redemptive self which characterizes the narrative voice of Wayfaring Stranger is not uncommon to the narrative stance of many an old British folk ballad, from the pining lass of Fair William to the besworn folkmaiden and lusty, easily swayed folklad who so often stray, only to regret it, and come back to their God. Meanwhile, the plight of the poor wayfarer remains open and non-specific, an everyman’s resolve pulling us in to folk communion. No wonder the song remains enticing; no wonder we find so many versions to pluck our fruit from.

In practice, whether or not you accept the label of “white spiritual” as applied to a song whose most famous version is in the voice of as haunted and searching a man as Johnny Cash, it is true that there is a certain emotional reverence common to all versions of the song. In fact, circularly, though there are as many ways to worship as there are men, and thus high diversity in the way different folk musicians choose to make Wayfaring Stranger their own, the question of what makes this particular song a white spiritual may be best answered by the consistent care with which all comers take on the song. To explore that commonality, and the variance in sound and tone and tempo that it nonetheless allows, here’s some interesting takes on the song, a vast array of approaches to traditional material from the very big tent that is modern folk.


WAYFARING STRANGER: A COVER LAY DOWN MIX
[download!]



Cover Lay Down shares coverfolk celebrations and ethnographic musings throughout the year thanks to the support of donors like you. Coming soon: a mailbag dip for the first covers of 2014. Plus: The Grammys!

4 comments » | Reposts, Single Song Sunday

Celebrate ALL The Christmas!
Coverfolk Mixes from Christmases Past (2008-2012)

December 10th, 2013 — 5:58pm





The season is well upon us, and the snow is falling on the trees, making a white world of what was green and brown. After school, the wee one takes the sled out; though the scant inch or two that’s fallen is too soft for traction, she seems happy enough playing on the driveway. And I am happy, too: at the fire which warms our house, and the blankets which beckon beside it; at the freedom of an afternoon shut in by snow; at the happiness of children at play.

Like the snow – and like the fleeting calm that permeates its moments – holiday favorites tend to fall, stick for a week or two, and then melt away; though their ephemeral nature makes them precious, so, too, do the songs of every season fade too easily into the haze of memory, like Dylan’s blur of childhood Christmases in Wales. And yet just as one season’s gems hardly represent the total canon of any of the artists we feature, to spend one’s time going back and forth between the public pap of the radio dial and this year’s newest holiday soundtrack is to dwell on the popular and new – a trend which neither honors the stillnesses of the season nor the comfort of its rituals and traditions.

This week and next, our coverfolk advent calendar will feature a seasonal set of new artist EPs, and single-shot videos and streaming tracks to make the spirits bright; as always, we urge pursuit of all artists through and after the holidays, that the present might lead to support and fandom, the better to keep the fires of folk alight. For now, though, we’ve dug through the archives to bring you our Christmases past – a set of seasonal mixtapes from the secular to the sublime, and the silly to the sane, curated and shared here on the blog between 2008 and 2012. Enjoy the archives, and may the spirit of the season find you in good health and good humor.

2008



2009



2010



2011



2012


Comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes, Reposts

Christmas Cheer Coverfolk:
Seasonal Songs of Drinking, Revisited

December 5th, 2013 — 2:14pm





An unexpected week in the hospital with the chronically ill elderchild has temporarily postponed what was intended to be a triumphant return to regular blogging. But last night, she was well enough to come home, and to exclaim sleepily with delight at our neighborhood alight with the trees and pageantry of Christmas as we drove though the darkened streets. And I am delighted, myself, to note that 80 years ago today, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was passed and ratified, ending national Prohibition, and paving the way for a return to the Christmas tradition of drinking with good company – a ritual sorely lacking in the sterile halls of even the most friendly in-patient ward.

And so a hastily-constructed thematic feature, previously lost to our server troubles last winter, is reborn.

Join us, as we lift a glass to the season and the day with a decidedly mixed-bar set of songs celebrating home, family, and holiday drinking. We’ll be back next week with some new and classic coverfolk cheer as we continue our celebration of Christmas 2013. May God bless us, every one.



Download the Cover Lay Down Drinking at Xmas mix in one convenient zip file!

1 comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Mixtapes, Reposts

Give A Little Bit: On Buying Local in a Global World
(A Cover Lay Down Holiday Gift Guide)

November 29th, 2013 — 3:50pm


Sale


Monday the wee one came home frustrated that her class has been chosen to sing “Joy To The World, My Shopping’s Done” in this year’s school holiday pageant. They made it about getting things, she said, but holidays are supposed to be about giving and being together. And so we sent a timely note to school, excusing her from the pageant and all related planning activities. And the very next day, in art class, while the rest of the class glued price tags and fake dollar bills to their decorative paper pageant hats, my daughter cheerfully constructed a hat for the girl who was absent.

We’re proud of our child for working to live out her principles. We are proud, too, of her ability to see and articulate their incidence, and to seek reassurance and help to practice them effectively and without confrontation. And we are thrilled to find, just hours later, that the new Pope’s papal platform – one founded on denouncing trickle-down commercialism, and the renunciation of its detrimental social effects – marks our child as prescient, indeed.

But as parents, we are also, unabashedly, proud of ourselves. For the expression of the spirit of commerce in its myriad forms is great and everpresent, and its antithesis few and far between, in our larger society. If the expression of discomfort at its practice came from anywhere, it came – in large part – from us.

This is not a political blog. Since our inception in 2007, however, we have done our part at Cover Lay Down to fight back against the subtle tyrannies of the consumptive society. Our insistence on offering links to purchase and stream music from sources closest to the hearts and wallets of the artists themselves, and our refusal to provide ads on this space, stem from an articulated desire to “walk the walk” of ethical consumption. And because a blog is dialogic, so do we also, from time to time, step up onto the soapbox to speak out specifically on why, and how, to better support the local and the intimate – a position befitting a blog whose ethnomusical mandate explores the coincidence of sharing-through-coverage and the communal purposefulness of folk.

Today, then, for the second year in a row, we take the time to provide our own antithesis to the buy-everything-now message that seems to typify the ever-lengthening holiday season in the Western world by offering a 2013 edition of our anti-commercialist, pro-artist gift giving guide for the holidays – a harbinger of things to come after almost three months of sparse sabbatical. Read on for last year’s treatise, plus an updated list of methods and mechanisms for supporting the local and the soul-serving this giving season…and, of course, a few songs to get you into the spirit.



Screen shot 2013-11-29 at 12.41.05 PMBlack Friday is duly noted for causing havoc and stress in the mass marketplace. But if we greet its well-intentioned antithesis Buy Nothing Day with suspicion here at Cover Lay Down, it is because there is nothing inherently anti-commercial about merely deferring product-purchase if we still plan to make it to the mall eventually.

Concerns about the way big business undermines and eats away at the profitability of direct creator-to-consumer relationships are real and valid, of course. But to see consumption as all or nothing is problematic: those who quite literally refuse to buy things unwittingly undermine their own communities, for example, by cutting into taxes for schools and roads, and by destroying the ability of neighborhood artists and local community retailers to survive doing what they love.

Happily, however, there’s a whole spectrum of opportunity outside of the false dichotomy of Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day. And the answer isn’t buying nothing – it’s buying local.

We’ve long championed buying local here at Cover Lay Down. We frequent local farmer’s markets and crafts fairs; we buy apples from orchards, and beer from the brewery; we keep maple syrup and honey that was harvested by friends. In our musical purchases, we try to buy at shows, as this tends to provide the most money for artists, and helps support local venues; we’ve posted about library finds several times, too, and celebrate regional labels and artists wherever possible.

But in the digital age, buying local means not only supporting your local shops, producers, and buskers – it also means supporting the small, the immediate, the independent, and the community-minded. As such, wherever possible, the links which we offer alongside our downloadables and streams go directly to artist websites and other artist-recommended sources, the better to respect the rights and ongoing careers of creators and craftspersons everywhere.

Which is to say: we’re about authenticity and sustainability here, a set of concepts deeply entwined with the organic and acoustic music we celebrate. With that in mind, here’s some suggestions for how to honor the community sentiment which stands at the foundation of folk music, even as you look for ways to show your appreciation and love this holiday season.


1. Give the gift of recorded music. Cover Lay Down stands behind every artist we blog, and many of our regular features, such as our New Artists, Old Songs series, focus on new and newly-reconsidered music and musicians worth sharing with friends. So browse our archives and your own, and then buy CDs and downloads for friends and family direct from artist websites, independent artist-friendly labels like Signature Sounds, Compass, Waterbug, Bloodshot, Red House, and Sugar Hill Records, promotional houses like Hearth Music and Mishara Music, and small artist collaboratives and fan-fueled microlabels like Mason Jar Music, Yer Bird, Rarebird, Northplatte, and Asthmatic Kitty. Or, if you prefer to centralize your shopping, skip the chain stores and internet behemoths that undermine local mom-and-pops and pay mere pennies on the dollar, and shop instead at your local struggling music shop, Bandcamp, CD Baby, or even Etsy.

2. Give the gift of subscription. It is still a matter of debate in the music community whether the proliferation of digital streaming services is bad, potentially career-smothering news for artists. But some artists offer “backstage passes” or “VIP” access to their art and its craft, and the benefits – which can include exclusive demo tracks, concert streams, early access to new studio work, and deep discounts – are generally worth the cost. Last year’s favorite model, Jake Armerding’s Music Is Food CSA project, provided a monthly virtual “box” of song and artwork for just a dollar a month; this year, the trend has turned to projects in which patrons themselves have a voice in the creative process through feedback and demo-testing. For those ready to take the plunge, we recommend El Dorado, a subscription service from Clem Snide founder Eef Barzelay in which patrons receive and inspire a new, exclusive 3-5
song EP each month, and pay-what-you-feel projects from Merry Ellen Kirk, Jess Klein, and others at Patronism.org, which offer access to their entire body of work, alongside opportunities to become an active part of the creation process as new songs emerge.

3. Give the gift of access. Spring for a gift subscription to Daytrotter ($32/year) for the music lover in your life, and let them download years worth of studio sessions and stream exclusive live sessions from a broad set of musicians. Buy them a Skype session with a favorite folk musician, such as Denison Witmer, who turned to the medium in order to spend more time with his wife and newborn son. Or sign them up for Concert Window, a free-for-trial service which offers live concerts almost every night from some of our favorite folk venues, and where two-thirds of profits go to musicians and venues. The live performances and sessions which these subscriptions net can be viewed alone, or shared with a friend over a beer on the couch – and the virtual concert is especially apt for friends housebound by physical limitation, geographical isolation, or preference.

4. Give the gift of time. It’s good to get out with friends, and shared experiences make the best kinds of gifts; by linking directly to artist web pages, we make it as easy as possible to check out tour dates. Support your local coffeehouse or small venue by booking a table or row for you and your loved ones. Take a child to their first concert, and open up their world to the immediacy and intimacy of live performance. Take a friend, or a group, and open them up to a new artist’s work. Or host a successful house concert, and invite friends, the better to share the artists and music you love.

5. Give the gift of artistic sustainability. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Pledge Music help artists make art, and donations in someone else’s name are always a nice gift – it shows you’re thinking of them, and it honors the connection you share through music. And just as donating to your local radio station can net you a free mug, crowdfunding comes with the promise of product – a reward you can redirect, if you give in someone else’s name. So browse the folk categories on each site, or ask around for recommendations on what to support. Some local examples we’re excited to share this year: folk duo The Sea, The Sea, who we have both championed and hosted locally, are currently raising funds for an official release of stunning debut album Love We Are Love; preorder, or pay up for some bonuses, and both you and your gift recipient get to help ensure that the album gets the promotion and production it deserves. Boston-based CLD fave countryfolk singer-songwriter Amy Black, who charmed us with gorgeous solo Kris Delmhorst and Loretta Lynn covers back in 2011, is eager to release This Is Home, a sophomore solo CD recorded last summer in Nashville; bonus levels here include a sweet 4-song EP of covers recently recorded in Muscle Shoals with Spooner Oldham and Will Kimbrough and a personalized video performance. Farther afield, Austin, Texas Americana scenestress Raina Rose, who funded her own Kickstarter album successfully last year, continues to tout projects from a talented network of young artists, including up and coming releases from Alexa Woodward and J. Wagner. And parents and kidfolk lovers will be especially proud to support Lullabies and Songs of Comfort, a new project in the works from tour buddies and fellow folkmamas Edie Carey and Sarah Sample which promises a sweet mix of the old and the new for all ages.

6. Give the gift of promotion. This one is mostly about giving the artists themselves some of your hard-earned time and energy, but artists need gifts, too. So like artists’ Facebook pages, and show others in your feed what you are listening to, the better to spread the word. Join a street team, and volunteer (by yourself or with a friend, as a fun gift date) to help sell CDs, hang posters, or man the door at local coffeehouses and clubs, thus freeing artists to spend their time playing, meeting the crowd, and sustaining their own fan base. Start a blog, for you or a friend, or donate to support one in their name.

7. Stay tuned. Looking for something a little more concrete in the way of coverfolk recommendations? Willing to wait for a few more weeks to decide which albums to purchase for your loved ones and friends? Just as we did last year, Cover Lay Down will be sharing our “best of 2013″ by mid-December; the items on those lists constitute our highest recommendations, and function as a concise gift guide for the coverfolk lover in your life. And if it’s holiday music you’re looking for, just wait until next week, when we kick off our coverage of this year’s seasonal releases…

Until then, here’s a short set of relevant covers to get you in the gift-giving spirit.

2 comments » | Mixtapes, Reposts

Revisited: Mary Lou Lord Covers
Lucinda Williams, Jason Molina, Big Star, Pink Floyd & more!

October 13th, 2013 — 10:22pm





When we last checked in on Mary Lou Lord, she seemed to be on permanent hiatus following a 2005 diagnosis with a rare vocal cord affliction, though an appearance at SXSW the following year suggested she was still open to possibility. But the pixie-faced singer-songwriter who rose from the subways of Boston to indiegrunge fame through a combination of raw talent and close relationships with both Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith has been on the move lately, co-founding Girls Rock Camp in Boston, embarking on a new kickstarter-driven album, hosting open mics, and playing alongside her talented teenaged daughter Annabelle in a recent live tribute to Elliott Smith alongside Rhett Miller, Chris Thile, Bob Dorough, and others that was featured in The New Yorker.

More generally, Lord’s Facebook feed is a daily dose of awesome, a delightful combination of raw human observation and the loving curation and celebration of a number of amazing musical legacies both past and present, from Joni Mitchell and Smith himself to mutual faves Elizabeth Mitchell, Haley Bonar, Teddy Thompson, and First Aid Kit. Though she is still recovering from a serious fall off a fire escape last month, that didn’t stop her from making major news in Stereogum after an “epic” Facebook response to Courtney Love’s terrible rendition of Big Star hit Thirteen wandered into a more general response to Love’s tendency to claim in public interviews that Lord snuck onto Kurt and Courtney’s porch to kill their cat – a thoughtful, emotional, coherent use of social media that only cemented our faith in the woman’s resilience, and made Courtney seem even more insane, as if such thing were possible.

As Lord noted at her recent live performance, she doesn’t perform much anymore, and a small but growing set of Soundcloud covers, including takes on Jason Molina, Dylan, and Richard Thompson, reveal an artist still struggling to vocalize, though the resulting strain has a rare intimacy, and reveals charm of its own. But if this is a comeback, we’re all for it. Read our original feature, check out our newly-expanded list of covers – including a stunning Lucinda Williams take from her newest album – and follow Mary Lou Lord on Facebook to keep up with the resurrecting career of a well-deserving superstar.



February, 2008

As far as I can tell, the only major distinction between modern folk and a certain sort of indie music seems to be how the artists choose to produce and use instruments on their songs. And though you won’t find this sort of fuzzed-out guitar on the other folkblogs, the way the modern singer-songwriter mentality seems to find voice in both indierock and folk fascinates me.

But production isn’t what makes folk, and even if it were, the distinction is often fluid. The small but growing cadre of indie artists who perform in both folk and alt-rock modes owe no small debt to a select group of artists — Evan Dando, Lou Barlow, Tanya Donelly, Jeff Tweedy, Ben Gibbard and others — who have, over the years, moved easily across the bridge between the two forms. But these artists, in turn, owe the very existence of that bridge to other, lesser-known forerunners, like Elliott Smith and Daniel Johnston, who spent their entire careers building the bridge for them to cross.

As part of our ongoing exploration of this curious relationship, today we feature one underappreciated artist who is more often found among the indierock, but who has claimed folk credibility from the start: Mary Lou Lord, folksinger and cover artist.


I was a high school student in Boston during Mary Lou Lord’s busker days, and not an apt or diligent pupil; I often skipped class to head off down the T into Harvard Square with friends. Given our relative age, then, and her own preference for playing along the Red Line, I suppose I must have passed by Lord a couple of times. But back then, my ears were full of post-punk grunge, and she was just another streetcorner kid with an acoustic guitar, a ragged approach, and an innocent, little-girl voice. By the time she started recording alongside the best of the growing post-punk world, I had already moved on.

The heavy fuzz and feedback of much of her production puts the bulk of Mary Lou Lord’s recorded work squarely in line with early nineties alt-rock; if you’re looking for her in your local indie record store, you’ll find it alongside the pre-grunge of artists like The Lemonheads and Juliana Hatfield. But like Beck, Lord has always had a folk heart, and worn it proudly. Though she’s famous for her catfights with Courtney Love, she toured and recorded with Elliott Smith, and opened for Cover Lay Down fave Shawn Colvin. By identifying herself with those artists and others, Lord categorizes herself as an artist straddling the bridge between singer-songwriter folk and the indie world.

The songs that Lord has chosen to cover over her two-decade career speak volumes about which artists she considers her musical peers and forefathers, and here, too, we find a curious connection with the folkworld. In and among the Magnetic Fields and Big Star covers, we find covers of Smith and Colvin, indiefolkie Daniel Johnston, Lucinda Williams, Richard Thompson, and even oldschool pre-folkie Elizabeth Cotten. Clearly, this is a woman who listens to folk music on her own time, recognizes good songwriting regardless of original instrumentation, and takes them where she can find them.

Here’s a few of my favorite Mary Lou Lord coversongs which hit that spectrum, and then some. Most are solo acoustic, delicate and coy, but don’t be scared by the occasional guitarfuzz; this is, at heart, a form of folk. Heck, if feedback was all it took, Dylan wouldn’t be a folkie anymore, either.


    Mary Lou Lord Soundcloud Covers [2012-2013]



It’s hard to link to the collected works of Mary Lou Lord; her recorded output remains scattered across several indie labels, some of them short-lived. But some of her back catalog is still available, and it’s chock full of folk covers.

Folk fans are probably best served by starting with the cover-heavy Live City Sounds, a hard-to-come-by acoustic album with several Richard Thompson covers which sounds like the streets where I once passed Mary Lou Lord in her busking days. Alt-punk label Kill Rock Stars also still carries a split bill EP and a couple of compilations.

Though her newest album seems not to have been released yet – she leaked the new Lucinda Williams track last year herself after it started getting play on media outlets – those looking for a more recent treasure trove would be well served to bookmark Mary Lou’s Soundcloud page, which has a growing mix of living room coverage and old found studio sound, including some mid-nineties tracks of her goofing around with Elliott Smith.


Bonus tracks? Sure – here’s a couple more Big Star coversongs in the same grungefolk vein. Dando’s cover is one of my favorite coversongs ever, hands down. And doesn’t Mary Lou Lord sound like a female version of Elliott Smith?


1 comment » | (Re)Covered, Mary Lou Lord, Reposts

Oceanfolk 2013: Covers for Sand, Surf and Sound

July 25th, 2013 — 6:20pm

Originally posted, with slight modifications, in August 2009, and again in 2011. Because it’s one of my favorite sets – and because bloggers need vacations, too.


herringriver


We’ve just got back from a short week in Truro, in the same rented beachhouse high on the dunes above the Cape Cod sound. It’s peaceful out there on the bluff: wakeless trawlers and shore fishermen, beach wanderers and bathers are few and far between, mere specks on an otherwise natural landscape that fills the sense with color: green grasses, faded yellow sand, the variable blues of sky and water.

At night the lights of Provincetown shone brightly just on the edge of the vista, a line of stars marking the difference between pitch-black sea and an invisible sky. The first year we were here a shooting star dropped towards them while I watched, as if longing to join the tourists and summer people in their shared debauchery. This year, the full moon showed its evidentiary head only once through the after-dark clouds, its tidal effect was visible in the disappearance of the dunes and meadows at dusk. I stayed up late reading the usual borrowed beachhouse paperback, the autobiography of an island lobsterwoman, and fell asleep before eleven.

The weeks ahead burn and roil on the horizon like sunset: crew chiefdom and a chance to steep in the community of music next week at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, a two week run of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the Hampshire Shakespeare Company up in Amherst, and then back to work, with new students to greet, new courses to teach, and new classrooms to maintain from then until eternity. But sitting there on the deck in the shade of the house, the marsh below me, the ocean beyond, this browngrey hawk drawing lazy circles in the blue overhead, I was reminded once again how vital it is to sit in stillness at the edge of it all, how centering it is to squeeze peace from the last fleeting weeks of summer.

It’s a good life. Here’s a soundtrack for it.



Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk sets and commentary twice weekly throughout the year thanks to the support of readers like you.

Comment » | Mixtapes, Reposts

Burning Up, 2013: More Songs for a Heat Wave
(from Ring Of Fire to Heat of the Moment, covered in folk)

July 17th, 2013 — 6:08pm





It’s been one of the hottest summers on record here in New England, with temperatures in the nineties for almost a dozen days since early June – so intolerably hot, in fact, that for the first time since the kids were born, my wife dragged out the air conditioner.

But this tiny, futile rail against the tide is not enough to make the difference. Outdoor obligations have been excruciating, and they are numerous; the rooms where we sleep remain restless torture chambers of sweat and stillness. By day, the driveway scorches, and the grass burns dry with sun. Shade offers no solace; cold showers provide but quick-fading comfort. The night is a swamp: we wilt, and nothing seems to bring us back to ourselves.

Amidst it all, I’ve been trying to put together a feature post on some great new emerging artists, but the hot, still air puts me in a stupor that stifles both the creative urge and any initiative I might have. And so we turn to the old standby: a thematic set of songs for a heat have, rebuilt around a set originally shared in May of 2010, shaken and stirred with a second round of new-found tracks, a lone concession to the creative urge. And then we’re off to the dam, to soak in the cool waters as long as we can stand it.

Listen, as the metaphors of heat – from friction to fire to the lazy lethargy of summer – stretch out in song, encompassing passion on the one hand, tempting fate on the other.


Heat Wave Coverfolk (2013) [zip!]



Previously on Cover lay Down:


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